In the words of that famous physical educator from the great state of Massachusetts,
“Ask not, what SPARK can do for you. Ask what you can do for SPARK.”
When Julie approached me about writing an article in celebration of SPARK’s 30th birthday, a lot of different thoughts and approaches to the task entered my mind.
After all, Jim and Thom hired me back in August 1990, and so much has happened since then. To think I was only 35, young and passionate about teaching physical education and eager to learn more. Now, I have the perspective of a retired person nearing 65 and wondering how I ever had the requisite energy to be a physical educator/coach in the first place…
So, as I reflect on the past 30 years of SPARK , I think of People, Places, and Things that I’ve had the honor to experience because of SPARK. Join me for a quick look back:
I feel grateful and blessed to have met wonderful people from all parts of the globe. Big thanks to Jim Sallis and Thom McKenzie for bringing me onboard just before the intervention was scheduled to begin. Jim and Thom have been mentors to me and have contributed so much to SPARK over the years. My SPARK colleagues are far too numerous to mention by name, but I want to acknowledge everyone who ever worked in development, dissemination, or delivery — our “3 D’s.” SPARK was always a team effort, with each person having to make their block in order for the play to work. Thanks to everyone who helped SPARK transition from a research study to a collection of evidence-based programs that made a positive impact on the way physical education is thought of and taught around the world. Thanks SPARK!
I’ve had the great pleasure of traveling to present SPARK research findings and/or conduct SPARK workshops in China, Norway, Portugal, Saipan, Canada, and England; places I may never have visited if it were not for SPARK. I also presented SPARK in many, many states across the U.S. A few personal highlights include the Catholic Diocese on the Pali Highway on Oahu; many trips to towns all over the Navajo reservation; spending time on the Nike campus (and the company store) when we partnered with them on NikeGO and Let Me Play; discovering Pittsburgh and surroundings due to our long relationship with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield; seeing Jekyll Island, Georgia for the Share the Wealth conferences; enjoying Burlington, VT to lead workshops for our gender equity project; going to meetings at Canyon Ranch in Tucson for the TAAG grant, doing a PR campaign with LeBron James in his hometown of Akron, Ohio; discovering Morgantown, WV when we did our Summer Institutes on campus at West Virginia University — just to name a few. How lucky I was to be able to do what I love, see the country and world, and learn from my peers and colleagues. But one personal introduction tops them all. Because of SPARK, I met my wife Wendy and we married in 1991! Thanks SPARK!
I thought it might be interesting to acknowledge some important benchmarks in SPARK’s history. In 1993, I approached San Diego State University (SDSU) Foundation about helping me write a business plan that would move SPARK from research to dissemination. Juanita Brents and Frank DiSanto agreed to support the concept. By June, 1994, the 5-year NIH grant that launched SPARK research ended, and SPARK was a self-sufficient entity operating under SDSU. SPARK began with one employee (me) and zero revenue. By 2002, SPARK was earning approximately $700,000 annually as a non-profit of SDSU. That continued until October 2002 when we teamed up with Pete Savitz and transferred the SPARK license to his equipment distribution business, Sportime. Sportime had been our exclusive equipment provider since 1989; they were a great company back then and had been for many years. SPARK grew to be the most widely disseminated menu of physical education and physical activity programs in the world and positively impact millions of young people. Thanks SPARK!
In 2019, SDSU and the SPARK Principals (Jim, Thom, and yours truly) made what we hope will be, our last strategic move. After an extensive nationwide vetting process, we transferred the SPARK license to Gopher Sport, the best physical education company in the U.S. Three of SPARK’s longtime and exemplary leaders, joined the team and are leading a return to evidence, innovation, and impact. I’m thrilled (and relieved) to know SPARK is in the competent and caring hands of Julie Frank, Ryan Schissler, and Jeff Mushkin. In addition, SPARK has long-time supporter, Kymm Ballard as their Consultant for Funding & Partnership Development. Last but not least, they have the support of Todd Jennings, Matt Ginskey, and the rest of the terrific Gopher team. It’s time to paw it forward!
While there is much to do and the challenges are many, I’m confident SPARK and Gopher — a match made in PE heaven — will be providing physical educators/physical activity providers and their students, with technology rich curricular resources, effective and efficacious training, and inclusion fostering equipment for many years to come.
Jim, Thom, and I will serve on the SPARK Advisory Board, sitting in the bleachers and cheering on this great team. Just like our old friend from Massachusettes, we’ll be asking,
“What can we do for SPARK?”
We hope you’ll ask yourself the same question, then join us in supporting this benevolent and wonderful organization that has had such a positive influence on our lives over the past 30 years.